Wednesday, September 16, 2015

RIP Adam Purple

[Photo of Adam Purple on 1st Avenue in 2012 by @rahav]

Adam Purple, the activist and environmentalist who was the centerpiece in a city dispute over a blooming oasis on the Lower East Side called the Garden of Eden, died Monday afternoon. He was 84.

According to The Villager, Purple — considered by some to be the godfather of the urban gardening movement — died of an apparent heart attack while cycling over the Williamsburg Bridge to meet a friend in the East Village. (The New York Times has a feature obituary here.)

Purple — born David Wilkie in Independence, Mo. — garnered international attention in the mid-1980s when he battled the city over a five-lot, 15,000-square-foot garden he created amid the ruins of the Lower East Side.

The garden grew from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s. Purple was known to ride his bike (he had renounced the internal combustion engine, among many other modern conveniences) up to Central Park several times a week and return with mounds of manure from hansom cab horses to fertilize the soil.

The garden, between Forsyth Street and Eldridge Street, just south of Stanton Street, was plowed under by the city in 1986 to make way for low- and moderate-income housing. (Plans to build around the garden never materialized.)


[Photograph©Harvey Wang]

Here's the Times with a feature on Purple from February 1998:

"He is the purest example of a hippie ever seen in this city," said Mary Cantwell, the author of 'Manhattan, When I Young,' who met Mr. Purple in 1985. "He is an artifact of that era, living in a very unlikely time and place, namely present-day New York City."

Mr. Purple has been something of a fringe fixture ever since he moved to the city 30 years ago. His appearance and his moniker were striking even in a city known for its eclectic characters and wild sartorial tastes. During much of the 70's and early 80's, he dressed almost entirely in the royal hue: purple shirts, purple sweaters, purple pants. With his beard, gray hair, floppy green stocking cap, sunglasses and twinkling blue eyes, he looks like Santa Claus if Santa hit the skids and lost the belly.

And from the Times in 1999: "He has been called one of New York City's living treasures, an ornery gadfly, a freelance anarchist. He has gone by many names: Hy Patia, Les Ego, John Peter Zenger 2d, P. E. Ricles, General Zen of the Headquarters Intergalactic of Psychic Police Uranus, and even the relatively mundane David Wilkie."

For more background, check out "Adam Purple and The Garden of Eden" by Harvey Wang and Amy Brost from 2011...



In recent years, Purple had been living in Williamsburg, working with Times Up.

As the Times noted in 1998, Purple started wearing little purple — with the exception of a hat.

He put the color away, he said, after the garden was destroyed.

"Purple went out with the garden," he said. "Adam Purple doesn't exist."

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Was he also responsible for the purple footprints which criss crossed and meandered around the streets?

Anonymous said...

Wow. 84 and still cycling. Bless you, Adam. We'll miss you.

Thomas said...

I'm really sad to hear this. He was such a welcome site hanging out outside of Times Up almost everyday this summer.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

RIP. It always made my heart glad to see Mr. Purple around the place. My husband remembers a Mrs Purple biking around too, but that was before my time.

Anonymous said...

RIP to this awesome individual. Thank you for making NYC better!!!

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Sorry - Eve. Just read the Villager article.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear he passed away. But how inspiring to know this 84-year-old man was still able to bike around the city. And he didn't die in a hospital or a nursing home.

John Mensing said...

Bye bye Adam

Goggla said...

I'm so sad to hear this. Mr Purple was a great inspiration to me he will be sorely missed. I hope his spirit inspires others to follow in his - purple - footsteps.

Gojira said...

Two things:

1) Anon. 7:54 - yes, those were Adam's footprints; I saw him once at night with a wood foot and a bucket of purple paint as he very carefully made a path with them that led the way to his garden while it was still extant. The prints were around for years after it was destroyed, and it always made me sad to see them, because I knew their purpose had been negated by some paper-pusher in city government.

2) The Gojira at 11:35 is the fraudulent one, my doppelganger who, for reasons still unknown to me, has decided it is necessary to try and co-opt my user name and try to pass him/herself off as me. I hope you know how pathetic that makes you, G2 - and trust me, if you had lived in the EV as long as I have made it clear I've been here, there is no way you would not know who Adam Purple was.

DrBOP said...

General Zen....another Planet Warrior done gone.
When they tore down Eden, the news rippled across America, breaking hearts as it went.


Still does.

Rest In Rhythm Poyyypulll.

Dan said...

can we organize to do something for him? a plaque or something more appropriate?

john penley said...

One of the things I remember about Adam Purple and the Obits have touched on it but have not gone into detail about it and that is that he was recycling things in large quantities before most people had even thought about doing it or even called it recycling. He was a true Pioneer in this respect. I remember that after he was evicted from his Forsyth Street building the word got around that there was a party there and people could come and take anything they wanted. I went and was amazed at all the different things he had in the building and it was seperated into different rooms. There was a room packed with magazines, a room with bike and other spare parts , a room with bottles, plates, eating utensils and on and on. It was pretty amazing and things were orderly and separated but there was a massive amount of stuff he had collected over the years and people were blown away and took a lot of the things but it must have been very sad for him to lose his Garden and his building and all the things he had collected over many years. One thing for sure there will never be another New Yorker like him. Too bad because he was a visionary and a creative genius. His Garden was like no Garden I have ever seen before and he used organic garden techniques before any of us had even heard the phrase Organic Gardening used. Adios, Adam and the cosmos must be spinning faster because you are part of it now.

john penley said...

I just want to point out that in Lincoln Anderson's obit for Adam Purple in The Villager Newspaper there is an old quote from former East Village councilperson and Bloomberg HPD executive Margarita Lopez about how she would like to tear down Adam's garden with her own hands. This is a good example of how some politicians become sellouts when they get elected and then get high paying jobs in City Government for selling out. I used to respect her but lost that respect many years ago.

Anonymous said...

Oh, sigh. Adam Purple, Jim Power (thankfully still around), Quentin Crisp...I can see them all. I'm generally not the nostalgic type, but this is making me feel old and sad. I could really, really go for a falafel at Habib's right now.

Anonymous said...

@The REAL Gojira: Thanks for clearing that up, b/c I couldn't imagine that you didn't know about Adam & his wife! What fixtures they were at a certain time in our EV history!

He was ahead of his time - which must have been so frustrating. I've always felt that his garden should have been treasured & protected by NYC as much as Central Park is.

All that work - back-breaking work - to improve that area in such a spectacular way. His commitment was astonishing, and it was done for the greater good, not just for his own ego.

It's horrible to remember how callously that garden was destroyed. I think NYC was (among other things) embarrassed that this one man could do something so extraordinary, while the city could hardly keep itself together.

For those too young to remember him, Mr. Purple personified something essential that is now sadly lost: a neighborhood that was so much more interesting, so much more tolerant, and far more diverse than the boozy-frat-boy, chain-store-and-bank "culture" we have these days. The closest to him that I can think of today would be Jim "Mosaic Man" Power, who is out there making his neighborhood a better & more beautiful place, on his own time & on his own dime.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Purple - you fulfilled your mission brilliantly, and you left this planet better for your having been here.

Jean Standish said...

Adam was part of the ecosystem of the East Village and Lower East Side. He will be missed.

Giovanni said...

Every time I saw Adam with his white beard he reminded me of Santa. But his gifts were so much greater than anything Santa could ever put underneath a Christmas tree. His gift to all was showing us how one person could make the world a better place if we just care enough to make the effort. He was a free spirit whose spirit is truly free now. Adam had a life well lived which was a life worthy of living. We were lucky to have him here for so many years. Great job, Adam, you made us all proud to be East Villagers.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the EV from 77 on.. and I would see this dude pretty much every day! In Washington Square, Around Houston Street, St Marks, you name it.. you could always see the Purple Guy scooting around with a purpose! He was a fixture of my NYC experience, in fact I even saw him ride by on his bike just this past Sunday. What a shame to lose another REAL part of Old New York. There will never be another man quite as Purple as Adam Purple. Rest In Peace mister Purple Man, although I never actually met you, you were a part of my NYC, and you will be missed.

Anonymous said...

Yes! I always wondered he made those purple foot prints and learned from john Joseph's that purple made those foot prints that ultimately lead you to a garden

Anonymous said...

Adam Purple was a true original. A gardener, a recycler (well ahead of his time), a community activist, and an anarchist. I got to know him in the late 80s, and used to see him on his bike on Ave. A and on 1st Ave. The last time I saw him was on 1st Ave. and 10th St. two or three years ago. As an anarchist, he was the opposite in spirit and commitment of the socialist would-be totalitarian Margarita Lopez, who never made a dime that wasn't pilfered from a net tax payer.

RIP Adam Purple.
Mosaic Man a k a Jim Power lives on to carry on Adam's work in his own way.

Bill the libertarian anarchist

Anonymous said...

Huge loss for the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I think a tree would be a fine way to remember him for he was a true New Yorker who had PRIDE... RIP

Anonymous said...

Oh, that wonderful garden...RIP.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear this sad news.

chris flash said...

Actually, the purple foot prints were done by George, a committed environmentalist who considered Adam Purple his hero, using a drum with foot print shapes cut-outs filled with purple paint that he pushed, like a manual lawn mower.

Adam was living with the Time's Up crew in Brooklyn -- a very appropriate place in NYC for a guy who survived in a building alone at 184 Forsythe Street without any utilities since his landlord and his neighbors abandoned it in the 1970s. (The site of the building was later taken by the NY Society for the Deaf in order to expand its existing building on Forsythe Street.)

While living there, Adam gathered his own water for drinking + cooking, he kept warm with a wood stove and he even made his own garden soil with a combination of manure and sawdust!

Seen for the past 4 decades on the LES in his purple tie-dyed clothes and long white beard, riding his bike and jiggling his bells to greet those he knew, Adam Purple was best known for his amazing "Garden of Eden" community garden that he created in a vacant, rubble-strewn lot behind his building along the adjacent street.

Though there were plenty of other vacant city-owned lots in the area, in 1986, the city decided it HAD to bulldoze Adam's garden, under the excuse of building low-rise apartment buildings on the site. The shoddily-constructed cinder block prison cell-sized "housing" on the site of the garden created at the INSISTENCE of Marguarita Lopez, who claimed that the Garden of Eden was some sort of hippie haven for whitey that stood in the way of housing for Latinos and Blacks was a BETRAYAL of the entire community!! (Lopez later had no problem getting a huge loft in a city-owned building on East 11th Street for NOTHING!!)[Adam's story and more info on the Garden of Eden can be found on-line and in previous issues of The SHADOW.]

I always enjoyed our long conversations whenever we ran into each other and wished I could have recorded Adam's words, his recollections and his history. He was fun, witty and extremely intelligent, always up on the latest current events.

Adam would have been 85 on November 30.

I will miss him dearly....

Stevin Azo said...

God bless you for trying to pretty up the place.
You were truly adored.

Anonymous said...

3:11 am a tree would be really nice where can we start on this matter he was a real non yuppie New Yorker

Ned Henry said...

Lots of love to Adam Purple. I lived in the nhd back in the 80s

linua coraggio said...

i recall adam (and eve) both on bikes getting horseshit by bethstuda fountain in central park in the early 1970's. there appearance was a fixture of the city. fast forward to 1991 when the first ''rivington school sculpture garden'' on the corner of forsyth and crystie streets (which i started) got demolished by the city
because it was on squated land. adam had started fleshing out a second garden on forsyth between stanton and rivington after the first was bulldozed(why this has not been mentioned by any post death publicity is beyond me,nobody else remember this?). so a face off began with myself and other members of the rivington school because we wanted to squat on his squated lot. a comprimise was reached and the 100 foot diameter yin-yang circle garden adam had plotted out was divided by a scrap metal art fence that me and my friends welded up. so adam maybe got the yin half and rivington school got the yang half. adam was beyond holding any bad vibes and often hung out in the storefront club house of rivington school adjacent to our half of the lot
for the next several years.

Anonymous said...

Heroes ain't nothing but a sandwich

read it and weep

http://thevillager.com/2016/01/21/all-purples-daughters/